What are the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 February 2020
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The federal rules of civil procedure are a set of practices and guidelines used by the United States' district courts when determining civil lawsuits. They are technically exclusive to federal-level courts, though many US states have adopted nearly identical procedural rules for civil procedure. Changes or additions to the federal rules of civil procedure go through a dual process of approval through the US Supreme Court and the US Congress.

The federal rules of civil procedure, or FRCP, were instated in 1938 and have undergone significant revisions since inception. Between 1938 and 2006, no fewer than ten major revisions were adopted. In 2007, a landmark decision allowed nearly the entire text to be stylistically updated, making it easier for modern lawyers to clearly comprehend the rules.

Prior to the creation and adoption of the FRCP, pleading a case before federal civil court was a complicated and dicey process. Under a system called common-law pleading, plaintiffs had to word case requests extremely carefully, as omitting one necessary word or phrase in the plea could result in the entire case being thrown out permanently. One of the major goals of the federal rules of civil procedure was to relax these rigorous and often incomprehensible standards.


Though revisions may alter the document with time, the 2007 version of the federal rules of civil procedure contains 11 chapters and 86 rules, though due to revisions, there are no rules numbered 74-76. The 11 chapters cover every aspect of a civil trial in the federal court system, giving a comprehensive guide on procedural rules both for parties involved in the suit and the presiding judge.

The first chapter serves mostly as a preamble to the rest of the document, stating the mission of the federal rules of civil procedure and that the document covers all federal cases known as civil actions. The FRCP then proceeds briskly through the entire time line of a civil case, from filing suit all the way to allowable remedies after judgment. The final three chapters cover special circumstances, behavior of the court and court clerks, and a more thorough section that defines where the FRCP applies.

Reading the federal rules of civil procedure is often advisable to anyone involved in a federal civil trial. Since the language update of 2007, the wording in the FRCP is often quite easy to understand. Reading the document can give anyone interested in the procedural rules of federal courts a clear overview of how trials are brought about, handled, and judged. Several versions of the FRCP are readable online, while some websites also provide helpful summaries and explanations of the finer points.


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